Tidying Up Our Library

Today I tried to sort through a number of reading lists I keep on Amazon.com in order to find a few new things to read.

I failed. Quickly.

A minute amount of arithmetic can show us why. If I dropped everything else of interest to me and developed greater discipline than I’ve exhibited in the last several years and devoted all of my free time each day to reading, I might, possibly, get through all of the titles I’ve accumulated in my lists in about… five years.

Five years straight of regimented reading. And of course these titles were accumulated over a period of about five years, so by the time I finished, I’d have my reading for the next five years ready to go. An endless fight, I could make my way through the stacks until life itself exceeds me and I succumb to my war wounds, surrounded by loved ones and my unread materiel.

Trying to sort these potential odysseys, I became overwhelmed and soon the books sorted me. How did I get here? What am I really trying to do? What is the point?

Every book I’ve encountered and subscribed to my lists (there are 22, by the way, starting with “American History”, ranging through “Farming & Ecology” and ending with “Social Science”) represents a hope for mastery and wisdom. Each represents one human being’s life work, in many cases, or at least a component piece of a corpus representing everything they’ve learned about a specific area of human inquiry they’ve devoted their energies and attentions to understanding.

So I grabbed them by the bushel, the box, the bundle, and stuffed them into 22 unique intellectual genuses for my future edification. Are you seeing the problem here?

This is intellectual hoarding on an epic scale. And each hope hides a dying regret, that I didn’t learn all of this sooner or at some other time in my life.

There may have been many opportunities to learn everything there is to know about Ancient Roman social and political and philosophical history; of EO Wilson’s sociobiology and studies of ants; of comparative studies in global religious traditions and the historical implications for host societies; of the supreme importance of mycelia (read: mushrooms) for soil health in one’s home garden or the world at large; of what the Founding Fathers really meant by the words they wrote in the Constitution and why the US really is a unique and special polity on the world stage.

But I didn’t. And I have to learn to accept that fact and let all these possible, potential, unrealized versions of me go. I know 80% more about philosophy than the average yokel, but I will never truly know Nietzsche. I made it this far without such arcane wisdom and I’ll have to see if I can make it a bit further.

It’s hard for me to let go of all the time I spent finding this stuff, though. In some weird combination of the sunk cost fallacy and the labor theory of value, it seems like because I spent all this time and had all these dreams it’d be a shame to just, hit the delete key, and watch these lists get disappeared out of some internet memory bank.

Instead of wholesale, scorched earth reset, I am considering utilizing Marie Kondo’s “spark joy” principle. I will scan my list and imagine, briefly, pulling each of these titles out of a freshly delivered Amazon.com box and holding it in my hands, feeling its weight and staring at the cover in person for the first time. How do I imagine myself feeling in that moment?

If I am ready to forget whatever it was I was doing the split second before the package arrived because I am too eager to sit down and begin reading, this title is capable of “sparking joy” for me. It touches something of my true essence, my actionable values, and a case can be made for keeping it on a shortlist for purchase if not ordering it immediately.

Everything else is getting torched. If it doesn’t spark joy for me now, it might spark joy for me never. It would be wasteful to maintain the delusion that I’m going to get to it one day and worse still to make the mistake of actually buying it. Then, Amazon’s inventory investment problems become my own. And I have no retail platform!

Some might suggest that there is value in maintaining a personal library. Here’s a recent picture of mine:

This is not every book I’ve ever owned nor every book I currently own. Sadly, I have more books than this and in more places than this. Many have been read. Some never will be. If the idea that I’ll eventually read all of these books is insane, the notion that some are worth keeping for re-reading or reference is marginally less connected to reality. Who has time for this? I don’t.

One of my greatest joys in reading has been discovering books and chasing down my own rabbit holes. Maintaining a library says something like, “One day, someone in my family or one of my friends or someone who cares about me is going to be really excited to chase down all my old rabbit holes like I did.” That day isn’t coming, but one in which your loved ones, a friend or someone who cared about you (maybe because they’re being paid to haul away your garbage and remains) tosses your books in the dump, is. It’s vanity to collect books as if it represents some important intellectual legacy you’re preserving for others.

That being said, maybe as part of family governance there are a select few titles that the patriarch (or matriarch) insists family members become familiar with as part of a shared family intellectual culture. That seems reasonable. But in the photo above, such selections would probably be able to fit on an individual division of one shelf at maximum.

Besides losing some nice wall art, you would gain some space if you stopped having a library and copious lists of books you’ll never actually read. You might also gain some freedom and satisfaction. What does it do to your soul to carry all that stuff you’ll never do and all the knowledge you’ll never have stuck in books you’ll never read, to carry it around in the back of your mind, day after day? What limitations do you set on yourself here and now when you spend any amount of time punishing yourself for what you aren’t yet but might be one day?

So, just let it go. If it’s important, if it’s you, it’ll come back to you one day when you go looking for it.

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Review – Leader Effectiveness Training

Leader Effectiveness Training

by Dr. Thomas Gordon, published 1977, 2001

Introduction

I find this book to be interesting as a potential “handbook of general management practices” and as such, I made extensive notes throughout the text as I read. There are many sections of the book that I copied in whole into my notes. My plan for this review, unlike other reviews focused on pithiness and synthesizing my impressions into a summary, is to keep more of these notes and direct transcriptions from the book in tact so that I have a good resource in the future.

What is leadership effectiveness?

How to influence people without using power is the key to leader effectiveness.

A revolution has started– a human relations revolution of great significance. People want to be treated with respect and with dignity; people are demanding to have a strong voice in their own working lives; people are less willing to be coerced and exploited; people want the right to achieve self-respect in their work and have work that is meaningful and rewarding; people are rebelling against inhuman working environments in very human ways — by jobhopping, absenteeism, apathetic attitudes, antagonism and malicious mischief.

While workplace regulation and government interference don’t help the capitalist or manager in this regard, the shift in workplace expectations is cultural and -psycho-intellectual-progressive (not political-progressive!) and gone are the days, real or imagined, of early industrialism in this country in which the business had all the power and could dictate, like a “captain” how would would be performed or else. Today, the dignity of the organization’s members is paramount to leadership effectiveness and great managers both a.) leave their associates feeling heard and understood and b.) offer them agreeable reasons to do the company’s work that serve their own self-interests.

Seems simple enough, so why does workplace and managerial conflict persist?

People come naturally to these built-in patterns of negative responses; they learned them when they were children. The leader inherits each group member’s “inner child of the past.”

[…]

Because group members at first perceive most leaders as probable controllers and dominators, that’s the way they will respond to her, even though the leader may have no intention of using power and authority.

It is vogue to ask of people to “leave your personal problems at home.” But this proves naive because it is the same person having problems at home who comes to work– there is no way to cleave one’s personality into two halves, work and personal. Further, people wish to believe that personality dynamics are mysterious or pertain only to events and developments occurring in the present, adult life. However, just as it is the same person at work and at home, it is also the same person who is an adult now but was a child in the past! A manager need not become people’s personal therapists, but they do need to understand that many of the negative, “childish” behaviors they witness in workplace conflict are in fact a result of unmet childhood needs and failed coping strategies developed in childhood adversity and trauma.

Being the leader doesn’t make you one, because leaders don’t automatically get the respect and acceptance of their group members; so in order to earn the leadership of their group and have a positive influence on the group members, leaders must learn some specific skills and methods.

How leaders acquire followers

There is a set of principles rooted in human evolutionary biology and the logic of economic scarcity that informs social organization development and leadership roles therein:

  1. Every individual is engaged in a struggle to survive by meeting needs and relieving tensions
  2. Means are necessary to survival
  3. Most means are acquired through relationships with other people; therefore people and the groups they form become the means of survival
  4. People seek out relationships in which others are seen as the means of survival
  5. People join groups with the goal of satisfying their needs and ensuring their own survival
  6. People follow a leader and permit them to direct their activities whom they believe will help them get what they need and want to survive

Organizational needs are primarily for increased productivity and efficiency, while the group members needs are sometimes those that motivate them to resist pressure for increased production and efficiency.

An effective leader cannot be only a “human relations specialist” nor only a “productivity specialist”, they must be both.

A job must provide opportunity for growth, responsibility, recognition and advancement if it is to be satisfying; it is not enough to simply remove dissatisfying items from a job.

Expecting people to show up for work just to earn a paycheck is not enough. People also want a sense of personal satisfaction and meaning from doing work they consider important and doing it well.

The principle function of a group leader is to facilitate problem-solving; in somewhat different times, it is to maximize productive work time and achieve mutual need satisfaction.

Effective leaders must behave in such a way that they come to be perceived almost as another group member; at the same time they must help all group members feel as free as the leader to make contributions and perform needed functions in the group.

Group members draw away from leaders who make them feel inadequate or lower their self-esteem.

When leaders achieve this “another member” status, they actually increase the contributions they can make to the group, because their ideas will get evaluated like those of other members.

An effective group leader, then, does not need to solve problems, but to see to it that they get solved.

A 6-step process for effective problem solving

  1. Identifying and defining the problem
  2. Generating alternative solutions
  3. Evaluating alternative solutions
  4. Decision-making
  5. Implementing the decision
  6. Following up to evaluate the solution

Observant leaders can use “signaling behavior” to become alert to the existence of a problem:

  • being unusually uncommunicative
  • sulking
  • avoiding you
  • excessive absenteeism
  • being unusually irritable
  • not smiling as much as usual
  • daydreaming
  • tardiness
  • looking downcast or depressed
  • being sarcastic
  • walking slower (or faster)
  • slouching in their chairs

Once alert to a problem, a leader can follow the problem-solving process to resolve it and thus allow the team member to return to their productive functioning within their organizational role.

As a rule, people don’t get down to the real problem until after they have first ventilated a feeling or sent some opening message.

It has not been an evolutionarily-successful social strategy for human beings to be directly confrontational. As a result, most people learn in childhood to show they are hurt or have a problem without specifying what it is upfront. This necessitates the leader engaging in an exploratory process to help the person with the problem feel comfortable revealing what their problem actually is.

The “helpee” usually will not move into the problem-solving process unless the listener sends an invitation– opens the door for the helpee:

  • “Would you like to talk about it?”
  • “Can I be of any help with this problem?”
  • “I’d be interested to hear how you feel.”
  • “Would it help to talk about it?”

Active Listening as a tool for building trust and leader engagement

Active Listening involves establishing equilibrium between the expression of the person needing help and the impression being received by the one trying to help them. Frequent and continuous feedback of the results of the receiver’s decoding is what “Active Listening” is all about. Listeners need only restate, in their own language, their impression of the expression of the sender. It’s a check: is my impression acceptable to the sender?

At least two ingredients are necessary in any relationship of one person fostering growth and psychological health in another– empathy and acceptance. Empathy is the capacity to put oneself in the shoes of the others and understand their “personal world of meaning.” Acceptance is feeling good about what a person is doing.

The 12 Roadblocks to Communication

There are 12 common roadblocks to effective, empathetic communication between leaders and followers and almost every leader makes the mistake of running into one of these roadblocks at some time or other in the course of carrying out their leadership duties.

  1. Ordering, Directing, Commanding
  2. Warning, Admonishing, Threatening
  3. Moralizing, Preaching, Imploring
  4. Advising, Giving Suggestions or Solutions
  5. Persuading with Logic, Lecturing, Arguing
  6. Judging, Criticizing, Disagreeing, Blaming
  7. Praising, Agreeing, Evaluating Positively, Buttering Up
  8. Name-calling, Ridiculing, Shaming
  9. Interpreting, Analyzing, Diagnosing
  10. Reassuring, Sympathizing, Consoling, Supporting
  11. Probing, Questioning, Interrogating
  12. Distracting, Diverting, Kidding

What makes these roadblocks ineffective tools of communication?

Implicit in these 12 categories of listener responses is the desire or intent to change rather than accept the sender, acting as vehicles for communicating unacceptance. A climate of unacceptance is very unconducive to personal growth, development and psychological health.

Listening helps keep the responsibility for problem-solving with the member. The 12 Roadblocks tend to grab responsibility away from the owner of the problem and deposit it in the hands of the leader.

Part of demonstrating acceptance is being willing to hear the WHOLE person, not just the part of the person we enjoy being around or working with. Feelings, even negative feelings, are part of everyone’s total reality and existence and will be a necessary part of an effective leader’s daily experience.

Contrary to the “feelings don’t belong here” belief, there is evidence that expressing feelings actually increases a group’s effectiveness and productivity. Openness in expressing feelings serves very much the same function for a group as pain does for one’s organism.

Leaders should treat feelings as “friendly”, not dangerous. Feelings should be welcomed because they are cues and clues that some problem exists.

Negative feelings can be quite transitory. People purposely select strong negative feelings as codes to communicate “I want to make sure I get your full attention” or “I want you to know how bad you’ve made me feel.”

However, don’t confuse the simple expression of a negative emotion as the start and end point of the problem to be explored. Sometimes people don’t know what the real reason is for their discomfort and need help finding it, and other times they just aren’t comfortable saying what it is.

People’s problems are like onions– they come in layers.

This is not unlike a child’s temper tantrum, and, as parents know full well, the best strategy is to wait for the feelings to dissipate.

Leaders do a lot of teaching– giving instructions, explaining new policies or procedures, doing on-the-job training. Yet very few leaders have received special training to carry out this important function.

Little or no learning is going to occur until you acknowledge the team member’s feelings and help him work through them somehow. Your teaching has to stop until you get evidence that he is again ready to learn. This is the most important principle of effective teaching. Just as you can’t be a leader without followers, you can’t be a teacher without learners.

Getting learners more actively involved and participating in the learning process is the mark of an effective teacher.

It’s also naive to believe that problems can simply be ignored or avoided.

The price unassertive leaders pay is that the problems rarely go away; they suffer in silent marytyrdom or build up feelings of resentment toward the person causing the problem.

The difference between “I-Messages” and “You-Messages”

You-Messages carry a high risk of damaging relationships because:

  • they make people feel guilty
  • they may be felt as blame, put-downs, criticism or rejection
  • they may communicate a lack of respect for the other person
  • they often cause reactive or retaliatory behavior
  • they may be damaging to the recipient’s self-esteem
  • they can produce resistance, rather than openness, to change
  • they may make a person feel hurt and later, resentful
  • they are often felt as punitive

People are seldom aware their behavior is unacceptable to another. Their behavior is usually motivated only by a desire to meet their own needs, not by a deliberate intent to interfere with the needs of others. When you send a You-Message, you communicate “You are bad for doing something to meet your needs.”

I-Messages are less confrontational because they represent a plea for help from one person to the other. Most people are willing to be of service to others when asked for their help.

The Three Components of a Complete I-Message:

  1. a brief, non-blameful description of the behavior you find unacceptable
  2. your honest feelings
  3. the tangible and concrete effect of the behavior on you (the consequences)

BEHAVIOR + FEELINGS + EFFECT

When people resist changing, it is generally useless to keep hammering at them with subsequent I-Messages; what is called for at such times is a quick shift to Active Listening.

The “diagnostic model” is the fashionable management belief that a leader’s job is to figure out what kind of person each of their team members is and then to speak “their language.”

The assumption implicit in the diagnostic model is that it is the leader who assumes responsibility for producing changes in the group members, and the more leaders know about their team, the cleverer they will be in selecting methods for changing them. This is ultimately a method of manipulation.

This is the “language of control” versus the “language of influence” in the confrontive model, where the leader cares more about knowing how people feel than why they feel that way.

With the confrontive model, leaders need only understand their own feelings and how to communicate them in a nonblameful way; then they need to put listening skills to work so they and their group members can work out mutually acceptable solutions. This is simpler than trying to “figure people out” to manipulate them into doing what you want done.

The role of meetings for effective leaders

There are two kinds of meetings, each with a distinct purpose: informational and problem-solving.

Informational meetings are for such purposes as personal growth, continuing education, keeping informed about what other group members are doing (including the leader). Should problems arise, they should be put on the agenda for the next Problem-Solving Meeting. Problem-Solving meetings have 6 types, following the six step process for problem-solving outlined above.

An organization without many problems is one that is not growing, changing, adapting. Expect problems, and embrace them as vehicles to making organizational progress!

Leadership effectiveness requires regularly scheduled meetings for problem-solving and decision-making with your management team. “Show me an ineffective organization or group and I’ll give you a leader who either does not have management meetings at all or who conducts them poorly.”

Guidelines for effective management team meetings:

  1. Frequency of meetings; it is important to meet at the same time, day and place on a regularly scheduled basis, with or without the leader
  2. Duration of meetings; meetings should start and end at rigidly enforced times, and include a break if meeting for longer than two hours; it is better to have multiple meetings than one that is too long
  3. Priority of meetings; ideally the meeting should have priority over other organizational responsibilities and people should be prepared to be fully present during the meeting
  4. Alternates for members; if a member can not attend, he can designate an alternate with authority to act on his behalf
  5. Place of meeting; conference rooms with sufficient privacy, quiet, seating and comfort are preferable to offsite lunches or dinners
  6. Physical arrangements; white boards, chart pads and other note-taking instruments should be present, members should be seated and have tables for writing on and refreshments for relaxing; the meeting leader should not necessarily sit at the head of the table
  7. The recording function; the leader should not be the recorder as they must be free to perform other functions; the recorder can be a designated person or a rotating responsibility; the recorder should capture decisions, plans for dealing with unresolved problems, problems emerging from the discussion to be placed on future agendas, task assignments and follow-up actions; a brief formula is a statement of the problem and who is to do what by when; meeting notes should be distributed to attendees after the meeting
  8. Developing the Agenda; the group should own its own agenda, not the leader; the agenda can be collected and formed before the meeting or at the beginning; discussion should wait until the agenda is complete
  9. Establishing priorities for the agenda; the most critical items should be discussed first
  10. Rules for speaking; effective groups usually function informally; the leader can be most helpful not in setting rules, but in ensuring each attendee has a chance to provide input
  11. Kinds of problems appropriate for the group; typically appropriate problems are those which require data from the group to solve, and whose solutions require the group members to implement or which effect the members of the group
  12. Kinds of problems inappropriate for meetings; never use group time to solve problems affecting only some of the members, that are too unimportant for that level of the group, that require study and preliminary data gathering (without conducting this first), or that are outside the authority of the group
  13. Rules for decision-making; ideally, all members of the group should agree on the solution and the problem should be discussed until all members are able to voluntarily buy in; voting should only be used to help the group understand which direction members are leaning, not to settle upon the solution and make a decision; when time does not permit further discussion, decision-making can be delegated to one, two or three members acting as a subgroup
  14. Confidentiality of Group Meetings; the procedures of the group should be kept in confidence to encourage open sharing, and only the decisions of the group should be shared publicly, not how they were arrived at
  15. Disposition of Agenda Items; every agenda item should be disposed of by reaching a solution, delegating the problem for further study outside the group, delegating the problem to an individual or subgroup for a recommendation, being placed on the agenda of a future meeting, taking the problem off the agenda by the person submitting it, or having the problem redefined in new terms; no problem should be left hanging
  16. Record of the Meeting; notes should be distributed promptly and cover all decisions made by the group, the disposition of all agenda items and all task assignments with due dates including WHO does WHAT by WHEN
  17. Procedures for Continual Evaluation of Group Effectiveness; the group can improve the functioning of its meetings by periodically reflecting upon itself and evaluating its own performance by written or oral evaluation and feedback

Some leaders pride themselves on having a problem-free workplace. They ask and expect people to “forgive and forget” or, worse, to not bring up problems in the first place. They pay a heavy price for this attitude of enforced ignorance.

The absence of conflict may be symptomatic of an organization or group that is not functioning effectively– not growing, changing, adapting, improving or creatively meeting new challenges. The number of conflicts in groups (including families) is not at all indicative of how “healthy” they are. The true index is whether the conflicts get resolved and by what method they get resolved.

I have heard executives proudly describe their groups or organizations: “We’re just a big happy family around here– we get along, no problems.” I am always suspicious of such leaders, as I am suspicious of husbands and wives who say, “We’ve been married for twenty years and we’ve never had a fight.” Usually that means that their conflicts are not allowed to surface and be faced.

Beware also of team members who avoid bringing up conflicts in order to earn rewards and avoid punishment.

In relationships with leaders who rely heavily on reward and punishment, group members selectively send messages that they think will only bring rewards, avoiding messages that might invite punishment.

These leaders, too, believe they are operating without problems or conflict, but are usually unpleasantly surprised to learn something major has simply been hidden from them out of view!

It gets a lot of mocking treatment amongst pundits and the entertainment industry, but it’s nonetheless worth reiterating the The No-Lose Method of Conflict Resolution: we will work together to find a solution to this problem that respects both our needs. For organizations which fear reward and punishment-based leadership, this can be an effective means of building trust that problems can be talked about because they will be solved to everyone’s satisfaction.

An additional concept is the “Principle of Participation” which states that those who are responsible for helping to shape a decision, feel responsible for seeing that it works. Utilizing the PoP, leaders can avoid the temptation to dictate solutions to problems that are brought to their attention and instead get their team members involvement in finding a resolution that they will actively support.

The Periodic Planning Conference Concept

People who believe they ARE the organization will want to contribute to its success, this means people need:

  1. Work that is meaningful and provides need-fulfilling experiences
  2. Their ideas and contributions are valued and needed
  3. Guidance for how to grow and develop so they can enjoy the satisfaction of being more competent over time
  4. A feeling of freedom and self-determination through improving their own performance

The Periodic Planning Conference (PPC) is an instrumental practice in soliciting their ideas, providing guidance and giving them a sense of self-determination in improving their performance such that ultimately work becomes more meaningful and need-fulfilling because the person is creating their own work.

The PPC is an alternative to the annual performance appraisal and is instead a regularly scheduled conference, generally every six months, with each group member. It may be as short as a half hour, averages two hours but may involve several meetings stretched over a period of days.

Items for discussion:

  • Group member’s ideas for improving performance in the next six months
  • Ideas for developing new skills
  • Plans to institute changes in carrying out functions of the job
  • Discuss ways the group leader can help the group member accomplish their goals in the next six months
  • Discuss with group leader ANY problem or concern impacting their job performance, job satisfaction or future with the company

It focuses on FUTURE performance (what can be done) rather than PAST performance (what has been done). It has no scores and focuses on job functions rather than personal characteristics or qualities. It is a two-way conference.

The rationale:

  • It is the leaders’ responsibility to help the individual member improve their performance
  • Provides useful organizational by-products:
    • Identifying qualified candidates for each level of management
    • Providing means for systematic follow-up and development of people
    • Focus on job performance instead of personality traits (de-personalize management)
    • Help people to help themselves grow in the job and the org
  • Builds a relationship between leader and group member where free discussion can exist and problems can become visible and addressed
  • Focuses on the future, engages with positive behaviors to make improvements
  • Group members become more engaged in their work by suggesting solutions to their own problems
  • Provides an opportunity to resolve conflicts when they arise, creating a mutually rewarding relationship

Important assumptions to discuss and keep in mind during a PPC:

  • Companies face competition and must make constant progress to avoid being surpassed by competitors; for the company to grow, people must grow; most people don’t like standing still
  • There is ALWAYS a better way of doing things
  • No one is EVER working at 100% of capacity
  • Change, growth and modification are an inevitable part of effective organizations
  • People are strongly motivated to accomplish goals they set themselves, not goals set for them by others
  • People are happier when given a chance to accomplish more

Steps to prepare for a PPC

  1. Prepare your people
    1. Explain the deficiencies of traditional performance-rating systems
    2. Explain the rationale of the PPC and its assumptions
    3. Listen to the feelings of team members
    4. Influence them to try the new PPC system on an experimental basis
  2. Get mutual agreement on job functions; what is the team member expected to contribute to the organization? What do they do in return for their wage/salary?
    1. What do you do to contribute to the organization?
    2. What do you do that warrants the organization paying you a salary?
    3. Why does your job exist? What is it supposed to contribute?
    4. When you feel you are doing a good job, what are you actually accomplishing for the organization?
    5. Procedure
      1. Explain the definition of a job function as opposed to a job duty
      2. Ask the team member to develop his own list
      3. Developer your own list as the leader
      4. Review them together
  3. Get mutual agreement on how performance is to be measured
    1. Reduces misunderstandings
    2. Points out what data will be needed for the group member to evaluate their own performance

Conducting the PPC

  1. Set the date for the PPC in advance, preferably by 1 week minimum
  2. Ask your team member to prepare goals in preparation for the conference
  3. Provide an opportunity to ask questions about the PPC
  4. Explain that the focus of the PPC is on the future, not the past, and that the team member is expected to “carry the ball” in presenting goals
  5. Explain your own goals for the work group, so the team member understands the larger context

Potential questions to prompt the team member in preparing for the PPC:

  • What do you want to accomplish in the coming year?
  • In which of your job functions do you feel the need for improvement?
  • What are your goals for doing a more effective job?
  • What help will you need from the organization to attain this goal?
  • What is your program this year for improving your performance or the performance of your work group?
  • What benchmark will let you know that you have improved?

Key points to remember about the PPC:

  • It’s the team member’s ball. Get his ideas and feelings out first. Active Listening.
  • Remember to keep the discussion forward-looking, the past is gone.
  • When it’s your turn to talk, be candid, honest and open. Send I-Messages.
  • Secure agreement on the goals to be accomplished. Keep their number to a workable size. Use Method III.
  • As a leader you want to have a clear understanding of how your team member plans to reach each goal– what actions are planned.
  • Share ideas when you think there is an opportunity or need
  • Maintain a climate that is warm, friendly and informal, but task-oriented.
  • Setting goals is a commitment to change, some may resist sticking their necks out
  • Review and put into writing goals agreed upon, with a copy for each participant (and, can share with the group)

Implementing the decisions of a PPC

  1. Provide data needed to evaluate progress
  2. Provide material, financial or personnel resources required to accomplish goals
  3. Make yourself available as a counselor or facilitator of problem-solving (use the Six Step process)

Expected benefits of the PPC

  1. Team members respond to trust by becoming more responsible and less dependent
  2. Higher motivation in your team members
  3. Greater self-fulfillment and satisfaction from team members
  4. You will spend less time supervising and overseeing
  5. Witness continuous improvement in job performance; doing things better will become the norm

Deeper issues for leaders

Just as the adults before us are grown versions of the children they once were, and a person at work is the same person he is at home, leaders must reflect on how their choices and actions will extend and reverberate beyond the narrow confines of the workplace. These personal philosophical inquiries may be of benefit for the leader in contemplating his place in society at large and, more importantly, what kind of impact he wants to have on that society:

  • What kind of person do you want to be? How you behave as a leader will shape you as a person
  • What kind of relationship do you want? How you behave as a leader will determine the kinds of relationships you have with others
  • What kind of organization do you want? Organizations are made of people in relationships, so the kinds of people and the types of relationships they have determine the type of organization they form
  • What kind of society do you want? An open society requires open leaders running open organizations where the members are allowed to exercise their own talents and wills

Quotes – A Well-Ordered World

The ancients who wished to illustrate illustrious virtue throughout the Kingdom, first ordered well their own states. Wishing to order well their states, they first regulated their families. Wishing to regulate their families, they first cultivated their persons. Wishing to cultivate their persons, they first rectified their hearts. Wishing to rectify their hearts, they first sought to be sincere in their thoughts. Wishing to be sincere in their thoughts, they first extended to the utmost their knowledge. Such extension of knowledge lay in the investigation of things.

Things being investigated, knowledge became complete. Their knowledge being complete, their thoughts were sincere. Their thoughts being sincere, their hearts were then rectified. Their hearts being rectified, their persons were cultivated. Their persons being cultivated, their families were regulated. Their families being regulated, their states were rightly governed. Their states being rightly governed, the whole kingdom was made tranquil and happy.

From the Son of Heaven down to the mass of the people, all must consider the cultivation of the person the root of everything besides.

~Confucius

How Science Is Science? How Irrational Is Irrational?

Daniel Kahneman helped make chic the idea that mankind is fundamentally irrational, especially when it comes to economics or more crudely as people think of economics, money. At least, that’s what people who read his “Thinking, Fast and Slow” book think he was saying.

I find this “science” to be infuriating and misleading. It gets people to overemphasize the small, selectively irrational parts of the workings of the human mind while ignoring the large, broadly rational parts of the human mind. If what you needed to know about humanity is that we’re really just irrational, you’d be at a loss to explain the wonderfully rational world around us– physics, engineering, social organization and yes… economics.

I have a low estimation of people who find this book and its message appealing. It says a lot more to me about their unresolved childhood traumas and emotional needs than it does about the way the world really works or anyone else’s ability to think critically about various subjects.

And that’s all assuming that what Kahneman wrote a huge book about was actually true! But if it’s not even true, if his science lacks scientificness, well, then we’ve got real problems. On that note, this was fucking embarrassing:

From Daniel Kahneman

I accept the basic conclusions of this blog. To be clear, I do so (1) without expressing an opinion about the statistical techniques it employed and (2) without stating an opinion about the validity and replicability of the individual studies I cited.

What the blog gets absolutely right is that I placed too much faith in underpowered studies. As pointed out in the blog, and earlier by Andrew Gelman, there is a special irony in my mistake because the first paper that Amos Tversky and I published was about the belief in the “law of small numbers,” which allows researchers to trust the results of underpowered studies with unreasonably small samples. We also cited Overall (1969) for showing “that the prevalence of studies deficient in statistical power is not only wasteful but actually pernicious: it results in a large proportion of invalid rejections of the null hypothesis among published results.” Our article was written in 1969 and published in 1971, but I failed to internalize its message.

My position when I wrote “Thinking, Fast and Slow” was that if a large body of evidence published in reputable journals supports an initially implausible conclusion, then scientific norms require us to believe that conclusion. Implausibility is not sufficient to justify disbelief, and belief in well-supported scientific conclusions is not optional. This position still seems reasonable to me – it is why I think people should believe in climate change. But the argument only holds when all relevant results are published.

I knew, of course, that the results of priming studies were based on small samples, that the effect sizes were perhaps implausibly large, and that no single study was conclusive on its own. What impressed me was the unanimity and coherence of the results reported by many laboratories. I concluded that priming effects are easy for skilled experimenters to induce, and that they are robust. However, I now understand that my reasoning was flawed and that I should have known better. Unanimity of underpowered studies provides compelling evidence for the existence of a severe file-drawer problem (and/or p-hacking). The argument is inescapable: Studies that are underpowered for the detection of plausible effects must occasionally return non-significant results even when the research hypothesis is true – the absence of these results is evidence that something is amiss in the published record. Furthermore, the existence of a substantial file-drawer effect undermines the two main tools that psychologists use to accumulate evidence for a broad hypotheses: meta-analysis and conceptual replication. Clearly, the experimental evidence for the ideas I presented in that chapter was significantly weaker than I believed when I wrote it. This was simply an error: I knew all I needed to know to moderate my enthusiasm for the surprising and elegant findings that I cited, but I did not think it through. When questions were later raised about the robustness of priming results I hoped that the authors of this research would rally to bolster their case by stronger evidence, but this did not happen.

I still believe that actions can be primed, sometimes even by stimuli of which the person is unaware. There is adequate evidence for all the building blocks: semantic priming, significant processing of stimuli that are not consciously perceived, and ideo-motor activation. I see no reason to draw a sharp line between the priming of thoughts and the priming of actions. A case can therefore be made for priming on this indirect evidence. But I have changed my views about the size of behavioral priming effects – they cannot be as large and as robust as my chapter suggested.

I am still attached to every study that I cited, and have not unbelieved them, to use Daniel Gilbert’s phrase. I would be happy to see each of them replicated in a large sample. The lesson I have learned, however, is that authors who review a field should be wary of using memorable results of underpowered studies as evidence for their claims.

What Is Design Thinking?

This post is a follow-up to some earlier posts about my recent participation at Stanford’s Design Thinking Bootcamp program. I want to reflect on what I think I know about the “design thinking” approach. I am not an expert or a scholar and I haven’t even read any books on the subject! This is my attempt to process my experiences, not to be authoritative.

As I now think about design thinking, I believe it is really three things:

  1. a specific process for generating new product and service ideas centered around “user experience” (ie, emotion)
  2. a general approach to being creative and innovative, particularly when working in a team
  3. a mindset, attitude or philosophy of psychology which addresses known cognitive biases which prevent people from accessing their natural creativity

I want to tackle these in reverse order.

The Design Thinking mindset

Everyone is and can be creative.

When I say design thinking is a mindset, I think about how much of what I’ve learned centers on the idea of putting oneself into a creative frame of mind. We seem to have both a creative mind, which is open, limitless, imaginative, fun and even a bit wacky, and a critical mind, which is narrow, realistic, fear-based, serious and deeply rooted in the known and knowable.

Design thinkers talk about the “Yes, and…” attitude, taking ideas offered by others and building upon them, rather than trying to shoot them down or explain why they’re wrong or off target. They separate the act of generating ideas from the act of evaluating ideas. They emphasize how we need to understand failure as an opportunity to learn, and to let go of control or thinking you can predict outcomes.

This is really a different way of experiencing life psychologically from what most people know. It’s not just about being positive, though the professional design thinkers I encountered were more positive on average than most people I know. It is an entirely different way to process one’s experiences and infer meaning from them.

Most of the time, most people are trying to avoid making what they perceive to be mistakes, and are looking for the quickest, cheapest way to accomplish a specific goal. But design thinking sets that aside. Mistakes are a part of learning and are to be embraced. It’s not that one purposefully makes mistakes, it’s that what a mistake is is not certain until it’s made and when it’s made, it is accepted as valuable data that shows us what doesn’t work.

And it’s not that design thinking looks for the longest, most expensive way to accomplish a specific goal, it’s an attitude that the destination is not obvious at the outset and so some serendipity is required to make the journey. When I was working on a design thinking project with a co-worker upon my return from the program, they were baffled by my line of questioning in some of the user interviews we conducted– we know what problem we’re trying to solve and how we intend to solve it, so why aren’t we asking people about that? I was taking the conversation anywhere but there, because as I understood it, the problem and what we think is the solution is just a place to start, but the true mindset we want to create is one of open consideration that we’re actually trying to arrive some place very different than the land we think we know.

A general approach to creativity

The mindset mentioned above is indeed a major component to the general creative approach design thinking represents. Without putting yourself into the right mental state, you have little hope of generating the breakthrough creative leaps the design thinking approach is known for.

A related concept is paying attention to space and materials when engaged in creative work. If you want to do different work and think different thoughts, you must physically work differently. Don’t sit at your keyboard, stand up in front of a white board. Don’t keep the ideas you’re ruminating about in your head, write them on colorful sticky notes and splatter them all over the walls so you and your compatriots can fully consider them. And don’t, by any means, think you can find all the answers in your office or traditional workspace– you absolutely must go into the field and talk to real people to find out what they think, rather than assume and guess at the thoughts, experiences and emotions of demographic strawmen.

I might have put this into the mindset area but another important principle is the “bias toward action.” This means not overthinking things and instead trying things. Come up with an idea, and then play with it, try it out on people you come across, see how they react. It rejects the idea that something must be perfectly engineered before it can be shown to other people. Seek “good enough” to get the major point across and go from there.

Design thinking certainly seems to offer tools and value for the individual designer, yet I think it emphasizes teamwork. There is an embedded belief that the individual is never as creative by himself as he is being creative in front of other people trying to do the same thing. Using that “Yes, and…” attitude, a group of people working creatively can work themselves into a motivational frenzy and the energy and random nature of exchange and +1 can take them to territory they don’t otherwise have a map to reach. The path isn’t clear and it isn’t contiguous.

One reason design thinking advocates doing and trying is that it’s a cheaper way to fail, and failure is seen as inevitable. Because humans are not omniscient and are extremely unlikely to come up with the perfect answer the first time, it is easy to predict that it will require multiple attempts at creativity and implementation to get to the final form that works as a solution (if even the problem itself isn’t transformed and reinterpreted along the way).

As a result, there is an emphasis on failing quick and often and not building a lot of cost into failure. Design thinking says that crude mockups and models of intended products or feature sets and the use of play-acting or imaginative role play is enough to try an idea out, get feedback and change. When you’re new to it, it seems a bit ridiculous, a bunch of grown adults essentially playing dress up and putting on a show for one another. Even more ridiculous is trying to get perfect strangers on the street to play along.

But this frugal approach allows you to try a lot of ideas quickly and cheaply. And if you get interesting or unusual reactions, you are gathering the exact data you would’ve wanted to get from focus groups, market surveys, etc.

An interesting aspect of all of this play is that it is highly experiential and is used as a tool to connect with people’s past experiences. That is what design thinkers are after– what is a real experience someone had in the past, and how did it make them feel, and how can they make them feel that same way with a new experience they’re trying to design into a product or service?

A specific process for generating user experiences

So that is some of the philosophical ideas behind design thinking. What we learned was also a specific process with 5 main steps:

  1. Empathize
  2. Define
  3. Ideate
  4. Prototype
  5. Test

The first step involves conducting live empathy interviews with “users” a euphemism for a person who might ultimately be the user of a product or service offering you are thinking about creating. Using a “probe”, which in our case was a set of flash cards with a variety of emotions and a prompt such as “Think of a time when you last X, sort these cards in the order of how strongly you felt each emotion”, the design thinker has an excuse to begin talking to strangers.

It’s easy to fool oneself into believing that the conversation is about the probe/prompt, or about the design problem itself, but it’s not. The goal of the conversation is to get people talking about themselves, sharing experiences and specific memories along with the emotional states they triggered. When those experiences are found or those emotional states are identified, certain transitions can be used to keep digging deeper, such as “You said you were feeling Y, can you tell me about another time you really felt Y?” or “You mentioned Z, can you tell me about a specific time you did Z?”

When doing empathy work, the DTBC recommended the following:

  • Engage with the probe
  • Notice surprising decisions, awkward pauses, facial expressions
  • Follow up and ask “Why?” about the things you notice
  • Seek stories and ask about another time they felt or behaved this way

By capturing strongly felt emotions and the real experiences that generated them, the design thinker is able to move to the second step in the process, which is to Define the user. This is different than what is commonly done in standard market research by studying demographic data, because demographic data is broad, general and based on averages, whereas the design thinking “user” is specific, real and quite limited in their profile. An example of a user definition might be something like this:

“We met Paul, a graphic designer living in the city who fantasizes about running his own dairy farm whenever he eats cheese, his favorite snack”

Paul here is not a demographic profile. He’s a real, quirky dude (that I made up) with a strange contradiction between where he lives and what he fantasizes about, for example. Defining the user typically follows a process called Point of View, which looks like this:

  1. We met… (user you were inspired by)
  2. We were surprised to notice… (tension, contradiction or surprise from their interview)
  3. We wonder if this means… (what did you infer?)
  4. It would be game changing to… (frame up an inspired challenge to solve without dictating what the solution is or might be)

Whether you had a specific design problem when you started, the Define step and the Point of View process can either help bring more clarity to what your problem might really look like, or it might uncover an entirely new problem you had never actually thought of solving before.

The next step is to Ideate. Ideation is the brainstorming part of the design thinking process and most calls for teamwork. You start with a simple prompt, such as “How could we X for Y so they can Z?” You then start coming up with ideas and “Yes! And…” each one as they’re created to add to it or add another idea it inspired. The goal at this stage is not to critique or rationalize ideas but to simply create as many as possible. You’re not after “one idea” you could implement, or the one that is the final solution. You don’t know what that would be, and coming up with only one simply means you have a high chance of discovering later on you’re wrong and picked the wrong horse to bet on.

One technique for coming up with greater volume of new ideas is to use constraints. The constraints could be real but are usually arbitrary and somewhat outlandish, such as “Each idea must cost $1M to implement” or “Each idea must involve technology to implement”. By focusing your creativity tightly around a special constraint you can actually be more creative within that specific domain because your mind is forced to think about the problem from a new angle.

A similar technique is to think about the emotions involved for your user and think of people or organizations or places that those emotions are strongly tied to, then to ask yourself “What would that person/organization/place create for this user?”

When you come up with a large quantity of ideas, you can then move to the next step which is to prototype one of them. As discussed earlier, prototyping is crude. First, the DTBC recommended a role play. Take your idea and set a scene, define the roles involved in playing out the scene to demo the solution selected and improvise within the role play as you try it out multiple times.

Once you’ve role played, you can actually create a crude prototype and other props to do the role play with users. You want to test one key function at a time, so your prototype includes the following information:

  • Product/service name
  • Target user (the one you defined earlier)
  • Intended impact (what does it change for the user?)
  • One key function (this is what you’ll demo/test in the field with your role play)

Materials like cardboard boxes, construction paper, glue, saran wrap, markers, pipe cleaners, PVC tubes, etc. are all sufficient quality for the purposes mentioned. What’s more, they’re cheap and just about any physically able person can design with them.

You’re now ready to take it to the field and Test. But here’s the trick! The Test is really the first step, Empathize. And the prototype is really your probe. It’s all an elaborate ploy to get people talking to you some more, but this time with a slightly more concrete circumstance and with the goal of eliciting that precious experiential and emotional feedback in connection to a real product/service you’re thinking about creating.

Over these 5 steps, which can cycle with as many iterations as necessary to find a worthwhile problem to design for and an exciting solution to create (as defined by user feedback), the innovator is going through what the DTBC refers to as “flare and focus”. In the first step, you flare out your ideas and thinking in new and unusual directions, remaining open to new possibilities and experiences you had never thought of or encountered before. When you begin defining your user, you are focusing on something specific about them you’ve noticed, something concrete that can inspire your design. When you ideate for that user’s dilemma, you’re flaring again, trying to get wildly creative with the belief that no idea is a bad idea. Then you select an actual idea you’re excited about and focus again by developing a specific prototype to demonstrate it to the user. And when you test, you flare out and open up to new reactions and possibilities and begin the cycle anew.

Throughout this flaring and focusing you want to keep your eye on your alignment assessment– how close is your “frame”, the way you’re thinking about a problem that needs solving, to your “concept”, the specific solution you have in mind for solving the problem? Your frame and your concept might both change or only one change as you iterate. You might find your frame is sound but your concept is off the mark, or that you actually have a really interesting product or service but you haven’t quite found the right user who would benefit from it.

Some hallmarks of frame and concept alignment in the form of user feedback are:

  • “Thanks! Is that all you need from me?” indicating the problem or solution do not seem relevant or inspiring to the user
  • “You know what you guys could do that’s a REALLY good idea?” indicating that the user is experiencing relevancy but doesn’t think what’s being offered would work the right way
  • “So is this available for purchase? What does it cost?” indicating that the team has a frame and concept which are closely aligned and verging upon being ready for market

Conclusion

I think there is something to Design Thinking and I am interested to learn more. I am trying to internalize some of the attitudinal or mindset ideas which I think can be helpful in many domains beyond that of creating new product or service ideas specifically. I like a lot of the general processes, tools and techniques for generating creative ideas and tackling solutions to problems from unique angles. I especially like the idea of questioning whether you have the right problem (frame) in the first place!

One application I am considering is using design thinking principles within my family. How might common family problems be resolved differently with design thinking principles employed? What kind of family life or activity could be designed with design thinking?

The concept of designing for a specific user is also challenging for me to consider. As is focusing on real, past experiences rather than future hypotheticals– design thinkers throw out as unusable any speculation about how a person WOULD behave or WOULD feel in a given anticipated situation because it isn’t certain, whereas how they did feel in a specific experience from the past is known.

I plan to read a bit more on the subject and try to rethink some of the organizational problems we face in our business from the mindset of design thinking. Despite my initial failure to complete my Post Program work, I want to use Design Thinking to find a breakthrough, game changing solution rather than find some kind of incremental progress. If our future and existence as an organization truly hangs in the balance, incrementalism can only delay the inevitable, whereas a paradigm shift could offer not only a survival strategy but a way to actually thrive.

Reflections On My Time At Stanford’s d.school

I’m reflecting a bit on my time at the Design Thinking Bootcamp at Stanford’s d.school. I plan to follow up this post with my thoughts on the question, “What is design thinking?”

First, I recorded some items on some note cards handed out to us at the end of each day to aid our memory and reduce our many thoughts and experiences down to the essential items of action or questions for further consideration. Here is what I wrote on each card.

Day 1

A key behavior I want to take back to work:

  • Creating an attitude where failure [of new ideas] and disagreement are acceptable and encouraged
  • Rejecting the vanity of requiring omniscience before action can be taken

Day 2

Today, we did this:

  • faced rejection and awkwardness to find complete strangers who were excited to tell us about their experiences and themselves
  • accepted feedback gracefully as an opportunity to improve our offering and refocus on what problem we’re really solving

A key behavior I want to take back to work:

  • Stop worrying about surveys, start speaking directly with our users
  • Focusing on emotions conveyed through story-telling
  • Emphasize breakthrough solutions, not incremental improvements

A question I still have:

  1. What’s the best way to break the ice with a user?
  2. How to know what experiences matter before the problem is known?
  3. When to abandon an interview versus dig deeper?
  4. How long does this process take to cycle through to a solution?

Day 3

Today, we did this:

  • Built low-resolution prototypes
  • Took them into the field and used them as excuses to have conversations with strangers about feelings

A key behavior I want to take back to work:

find reasonable excuses to have deeply personal discussions with our customers

A question I still have:

  1. How do I identify the right problem to work on?
  2. Who is going to help me with this?
  3. How often should we be doing this (design thinking work)?
  4. How long will it take to reach a conclusion?

Now that I’ve shared some of my daily reflections, I want to make some notes about my overall impressions and reflections of the experience.

As I discussed with one of the coaches at the d.school, I believe we are standing on a “burning platform” in our business due to technological and competitive dynamics and it’s imperative we take these risks seriously by thinking about radically different ways of doing business, up to and including finding a completely different business to compete in. Therefore, I had one over-riding goal in attending the Design Thinking Bootcamp: gain a toolset that would help our organization think about the challenge we face differently than we think about it now, and design a radical solution.

Along with that larger goal came many smaller goals about specific areas of our existing business where we perceive an opportunity to radically innovate.

Going into the program, I thought that the program was going to mostly revolve around these specific business challenges and I would be working, almost one-on-one, with design thinking coaches to learn how to apply design thinking to our challenge. I imagined that what I was primarily gaining was an individual insight that I could hopefully share or train our larger organization on as needed when I went back to base.

I had done some research ahead of time and was aware of some of the things we’d be doing in the course of the program:

  • going out into the field to do interviews with “users”
  • working on a design challenge for a sponsoring major corporation
  • doing team-based thinking games to explore different aspects of design thinking

I was apprehensive (in a “good” way) about the interviewing because it is one thing from my previous operational management experience I liked least or felt least comfortable with– actually talking with our customers. Most of my interactions with customers were defensive in nature, trying to calm down someone we had pissed off through process failure or other failure to live up to their expectations or our commitments. I didn’t have much experience or confidence in just talking to people to try to gather insights about how to make business better in a proactive sense. This was a skillset I very much wanted to gain and was ready to do uncomfortable things to master.

Another thing I was concerned about on a personal level was sustaining my energy throughout the program, especially when considering the suggestion that food might be hard to come by. Some of the early material I received in preparation for the week seemed to imply that meals would be light and limited and we’d often be on our own. The Wolf was concerned for me, and the first question she asked when I checked in after Day 1 was “Are they giving you enough to eat?”

I am happy to report that the experience was much higher touch than I would’ve thought. We were fed ENDLESSLY– breakfast, lunch and dinner with oversupplied snack stations throughout the day and dessert offered at lunch and dinner. The food was high quality and diverse from a local catering operation and the snacks were gourmand. I never went hungry and it was clear the program coordinators put a lot of time and attention into this specific detail, not to mention all the others. “Class sizes” were small, typically 1 coach for 5 team members, plus other support staff and coordinators. We had a group dinner scheduled in San Francisco one night and had nice tour buses to shuttle us back and forth when we went out into the field. Overall, it was an extremely comfortable experience from a material standpoint.

The instructors were amazingly high energy and genuinely interested in their students and their learning. That was actually one of the things that was most challenging for me. Design thinking seems to require a lot of emotional energy, and by the time I got home I was drained. Imagine being super excited about everything for 12 hours a day for 4 days. Imagine sustaining this energy with people you’ve never met (I mean the strangers we interviewed, not just the team members in the program) and conveying the sense that the wacky stories they’re sharing are SUPER exciting and SUPER interesting as you interview them for twenty minutes at a time.

Maybe some people can sustain that for weeks, months or even their entire lives, but I can’t. I crashed when I got home, hard.

On the Monday after my return I was to begin my Post Program Design Project. The idea was that between 8am and 12pm, Monday through Wednesday, I would attempt a small design project from start to finish: Empathize, Define, Ideate, Prototype, Test. There were 2 team calls scheduled for 1 hour at 9am on Tuesday and Wednesday to check in and support one another in creating ideas and processing feedback. Otherwise, in 4 hours each of three days you were expected to interview your own customers/users, define a test user to design for, come up with ideas that might make their life more wonderful, create a crude prototype and then role play using it with more customers/users.

I ended up doing the interviews but found it was a lot more challenging to do when the people in our organization that I asked to assist me weren’t really bought in and didn’t really understand how the approach “works” like the people I had teamed up with at the d.school. The interviews went okay despite that, but when it came to defining, ideating, prototyping, I lost my motivation and decided to “quit” rather than make excuses as to why I couldn’t get my project done.

This is probably the most frustrating part of my experience at the d.school, and the biggest lesson I could learn! It was frustrating for me because they made it quite clear before we left that making excuses and not getting the Post Program work done was for losers– in developing a “bias toward action” it is important to jump right in to trying what you learned in your own business, even if you end up sucking at it or it feels funny. This didn’t seem to give me much room to maneuver once I hit some speed bumps and started wobbling, so I just fell over.

On the other hand, experiencing a painful failure and getting back up on my design thinking bike (as I plan to, anyway) helped me think about the other important principle, which is that failure is okay and is part of learning. I now realize I need to sell what I’ve learned a lot better than I did and can’t assume people will rally around this approach just because the organization sent me off to a training program for a week. I also understand that I CAN do what I thought/think is uncomfortable and speak to real “users”, and I have some confidence in the idea that there are real insights we can gain from that effort if we work diligently and find the right people to design for. My initial failure has been a good reminder of the meta-principle of design thinking, which is that everyone can get better by iterative improvements.

My experience at the d.school was wacky and weird, fun and tiring, engaging and challenging. At one point it felt like being back in kindergarten, making macaroni art and playing make believe as we constructed these goofy prototype scenarios and then played them out with each other, with strangers on the street and for our fellow d.school teammates for feedback and evaluation. In the short time I was there I did not come across any “profound” solutions to burning platform business challenges (my own or others) and I realize I can’t expect that kind of resolution from a week long program or from my amateur tinkering with this new found knowledge. Design thinking isn’t a miraculous process, it’s an innovative process.

I’ve got a bit of travel ahead of me over the next few weeks, so I won’t get an opportunity to “do” much design thinking in the meantime. But it is rooted in my mind now and I am thinking differently than when I left for the training. My plan is to try to identify a lower-difficulty challenge our organization could work on and find a few people who are highly motivated to learn and practice a new approach with me. From there we can further test the principles and hopefully design an implementable solution that will be the tangible evidence of value needed to bring it to a wider organizational audience and signal that it is time to move on to bigger challenges.

Some Takeaways From My Time At The D.School

I’m back from Stanford’s d.school and have a few ideas I jotted in my notebook while I was there:

  1. Learn to celebrate failure; watch how you react to it
  2. Let go of your desire to control outcomes; with humans involved, nothing ever goes according to plan
  3. Try things, practice, iterate
  4. Don’t build expense into prototyping; the more it costs, the harder it is to iterate and change and the less you can learn from your failures
  5. Don’t make insight generation complicated
  6. Where is the burning platform? Look for that place and work on the problems involved
  7. Innovation is the outcome of a process, and innovators are the people who do it
  8. The design thinking process: empathize, define, ideate, prototype, test and back again
  9. The answers are not in this building
  10. When empathizing, spend 15% of your time engaging, noticing and following-up and 85% of your time seeking stories
  11. The purpose of your empathy research is to capture emotion; what is it? where does it come from?
  12. Gravitate in your empathizing and your design thinking process between flaring and focusing
  13. When defining, start with an observation, make an inference, then form a hunch that can carry you to insight
  14. Solve one problem at a time
  15. POV essentials: preserve emotion and the individual, use strong language, sensical wording, non-obvious leaps and generate possibilities that lead to problems the team wants to help solve
  16. 5 users are sufficient to capture 85% of usability cases
  17. Tail-end users have explicit needs and better represent the implicit needs of median users
  18. The future is already here, but it’s not evenly distributed
  19. Trusting relationships are the foundation of generative work
  20. Learn how things fail before it matters, not when it does
  21. You can only learn by doing, not by planning
  22. Match prototyping resolution to idea certainty to allow yourself to hear the inevitable critical feedback
  23. Testing = empathy; your prototype is your empathy probe
  24. The value is in the user and their emotions, not in the prototype or experience model itself
  25. The goal is to develop empathy with the user, not the make the prototype perfect; seek understanding
  26. All action aims at advancing the frame and the concept towards convergence
  27. What do your users say about the concept? The users’ reactions and excitement indicate proximity to convergence and likely next steps
  28. 3 elements of storytelling: action, emotion and detail
  29. 100% of people who succeed, start
  30. Struggle and learning are complements; there is no learning without struggle, and the more one struggles, the more one has opportunity to learn; you can not master new knowledge from a place of comfort

Some or even many of these are probably difficult to make sense of or place without further context about the design thinking process.